Life is full of tests, challenges, ups and downs. That’s just the way it is. In fact, I would suggest that if your life is completely without stress or pain in some shape of form for an extended period of time then the odds are you don’t just have a very quiet life – you might not have a life at all! Certainly, anyone who has ever done something creative, or has ever attained a significant milestone of achievement will know that challenges and difficulties aren’t just a major part of the journey, often they provide the unplanned for moments of inspiration and genius – the opportunities which we recognise we would have failed without and for which we will be most grateful.
The quality of our life is not determined by the challenges we face but the way in which we respond to them.
I’ve experienced this in many ways but earlier this week I had a brief experience that brought this up in a succinct and personal way. Late one night I started getting a lot of pain in my body. I had irritated a nerve so the pain was radiating all over the place. It was pretty intense. My initial reaction was to go into a kind of lock-down. To be honest, I was feeling pretty dark. Over the evening though I noticed that when I just relaxed and felt more acceptance the negative charge around the pain dissipated. Next morning I woke up, still in pain but I was actually feeling great. I was feeling really calm and good. I was still in quite a lot of pain, too much to drive safely, but I it was okay. In fact I felt great because I realised that I had resources to respond to it in a loving, caring way.
You see, this was a good test for me because this goes back to a very old injury, almost 30 years ago in fact, when I was hit by a car. It flared up again in my mid-twenties and that lasted for a long ten years. The thing was, when it did flare up I can see in hindsight that I would fight it and attack it. I’d try to stretch it or hold it or suppress it – anything to get rid of it. And surprise, surprise, all of this made it worse, a lot worse. Interestingly, I always found that the pain would go away when I did something really joyful and absorbing, like Tai Chi, skiing, making love, dancing, or even watching some great films.
Doing these activities I experience no resistance. That is, I’m allowing myself to experience the fullness of the moment, the now. Outside this, though, I was tending to experience a lot of resistance to the moment, especially if it had aspects that I felt uncomfortable about (physical, financial, emotional etc).
I’ve found repeatedly that the key is to harness the attitude of full and unconditional acceptance and even submission to the moment that I found in those experiences of pleasure and joy. In fact, I reminded myself of the mantra which I used to tell myself coming out of a challenging time in my late teens – “accept, accept, accept.”
Acceptance is the starting place for change. After all, how can we really change anything is we refuse to accept its presence? All we end up doing is fighting what is. It’s like treating an addiction. The first step is to accept that it actually exists. Owning the moment in all its faces is real power.
When we take it one step forward we start to cultivate loving acceptance. With this mindset we can then start to respond in creative, empowering and healthy ways to the events that we experience that might otherwise have merely bundled and devalued as simply ‘stressful’.
The real trick is to have the presence of mind, and the mental vigilance to respond in this way at the first signs of difficulty. The earlier the creative mind kicks in, the sooner you’ll start to generate ways through pain and suffering into joy.